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Old 08-02-2007, 04:23 AM   #1
Threshold
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What to do about old content?

I imagine this is a problem more and more MUDs are having now that so many of them have been around for a long time.

What do you do with old content that doesn't mesh perfectly with the rest of your world?

What do you do with old content whose writing quality is not as good as newer content?

I was thinking about this when recently working on something that was more than 10 years old on Threshold. It was something I had written, so when I decided it was crap I had nowhere to look except at myself. I ended up doing a lot of rewriting, which is never the most fun way to spend one's scarce development time.

I imagine I am not the first developer to face this problem. If you know you have old content that is not as good as newer content, do you go back and redo/rewrite the old content?

I can't help but wonder if that is a bad way to invest developer time. Presumably, at the time it was written it was judged to be of good quality. So surely it is at least good enough to be left in place. It is possible that any time spent rewriting/redoing old content could be better spent simply developing new content.

Now, if the issue is balance, then I think it is always good to revisit old content. You don't want something to be too good or too crappy (and thus useless) simply because it is old. But if the issue is simply one of style, I think as a developer the best course of action is just to accept that it is from an earlier time, and continue working to improve one's own skills when making new stuff.

But then, if you happen to be confronted with some old content face to face, and just can't stand it... it probably doesn't hurt to do some rewriting occasionally.
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Old 08-02-2007, 08:36 AM   #2
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Re: What to do about old content?

I know the feeling, whether I wrote the area or someone long gone did. I think that your response is pretty indicative - if it shocks you and jumps out at you that the area is clearly sub-par compared to your newer work, then I'd say that looking at it more closely and possibly re-writing it (or just getting rid of it should it no longer serve a real purpose) is a good idea. I know that I've done this to a whole bunch of areas. I think that it's a good thing to periodically check up on areas, and have someone else do the same, if possible, not just to see whether they are good areas, but areas that have a purpose (which speaks more to the balance part).

Like you said, this does take up a lot of time, but I feel that it is time well spent, and necessary to spend. I have found that people in general look more at the bad than at the good: you can build 20 excellent areas, but if a player is shocked at your one area that isn't as good, that can leave a big negative impression - "Why didn't the admin correct this? Don't they care?" - etc. I think consistency is probably the most important thing as far as MUDs go, because you can really throw away a lot of effort spent on the good stuff, by clouding the waters with substandard or inconsistent material. The way I try to look at it is that the whole package of areas needs to be good, and if one area drags this down, the time spent fixing it isn't just spent on that area, but is time spent making the whole package better - which sounds much more worthwhile.

As for the "it was good enough at the time so clearly I'm just being overcritical" argument, I think that it possibly holds true for a game such as yours where you have always had your hand in whatever goes on, but not for other games that tend to have a head builder (who changes) and several other builders (who also change). Different people have different tastes, and different skill levels. It may be that the people who built some areas were just not very good builders, and the head builder at the time was not very good at vetting/correcting/overseeing them. Especially for games where the staff change regularly, I think one of the admin's most important tasks is re-evaluating the areas already in place, and making sure that they all fit together and there are no obvious shortfalls.
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Old 08-02-2007, 08:04 PM   #3
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Re: What to do about old content?

I have a feeling that the answer here is going to be different for most muds compared to Threshold. Given that most other muds are going to have a greater pool of developers to call on it increases the likelyhood that one of them is going to find a particular older area so frustrating that they volunteer to rewrite it. Not such an option for the solo developer who I imagine busts a gut just trying to get enough new stuff into the game at the rates players tend to expect (demand?) it.

Personally, rather than full rewriting, I'm more of a fan of the choice 'product placement' style of updating. Is there an area made after the initial area that the original npcs shoul now be aware of and comment on? Is there a particular object in the area that some much newer npc covets (opening up opputunities to improve the object without having to overhaul the area). When developing I constantly have to remind myself that it's not always the enormous, sweeping changes that influence players the most - sometimes it's the tiniest lines that connect two previously unrelated areas or npcs that capture the players imaginations and give them something to run with.

I think that kind of rewriting can be done easily, quickly and by a single coder and has the greatest possible impact for effort.
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Old 08-03-2007, 02:48 AM   #4
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Re: What to do about old content?

Good point - in line with the whole "package deal" of areas, I agree it's a great idea to spend some time integrating them with each other, especially older ones with newer ones. The player feedback that I have received seems to be that players really notice and appreciate it when NPCs in one area realise that other areas exist, and even interact with them, rather than acting as though their area might as well be the whole world.
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Old 08-03-2007, 04:43 AM   #5
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Re: What to do about old content?

Quote:
What do you do with old content that doesn't mesh perfectly with the rest of your world?

What do you do with old content whose writing quality is not as good as newer content?
I would have to judge it on a case-by-case basis. In extreme situations I might simply scrap the content (I recently dumped an entire gameworld and replaced it with a new one, but the original had only ever been intended as a temporary thing anyway). Generally though, I'd just tweak things that didn't properly mesh, and update the writing if I felt it wasn't up to scratch.

If the original area fitted thematically but the writing needed a complete overhaul, I might be tempted to tie that change into the storyline - i.e., rewrite the area as if some great event had just occurred, then run that event as a major one-off quest, and swap the areas afterwards. This can make the game world feel a bit less static.
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Old 08-03-2007, 09:50 AM   #6
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Re: What to do about old content?

These days, we rewrite old content fairly aggressively, outstripping work on 'brand-new' content. Improving the writing is part of the goal, but also our code has evolved so much since we started out that the oldest areas end up missing a lot of features. Also, some very old area projects (mostly roads) were intended as 'connectors' to set up major areas, and got written quickly.

Our world has been 'big enough' for all but the most veteran players for a very long time-- even people that have been here for a few years look down the area list and notice places they've never been to. Instead of raw expansion, we're working on:

- High density of high quality work. A lot of our oldest areas are (naturally) located at our world's center-- people began with that group of areas and tended to expand in all directions. A newer player might not have ventured far from those core areas, and really won't see our best stuff.

- Exploration rewards at all levels. For whatever reason, there used to be a strong correlation between how difficult an area's creatures were and how much was invested in custom code, tricks, quests, traps, etc. Areas aimed at new adventurers tended towards cities, towns, or wilderness areas populated with things to kill and stuff to grab, whereas the high-end areas had most of the unique stuff. We've worked a lot on developing exploration-oriented content at low levels.

- Addressing niche needs, or needs that didn't exist when the area was written. We have a lot of tools now for charting and breaking down what's in our various areas. For example, a weapon being two-handed used to be a pure drawback-- in our original code, it just meant it used both of your hands, and you're hoping the area writer made it extra-good to make up for that. Now, there are (sub)classes which actively seek out high-leverage weapons, and you need a stock of them at all levels. Old areas probably lack them, along with other niche needs.

Also:

- It's easier. Given that you can often keep a similar floorplan, general theme, and often some 'highlight' NPCs, it's generally easier than starting from a blank page.
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Old 08-03-2007, 10:19 AM   #7
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Re: What to do about old content?

Most older Muds probably has this problem, ours certainly does, since many of the OLC features, (like various extra desks) weren't implemented until the world already was over 10,000 rooms. Also the quality requirements have been raised considerably over the years, leaving all the oldest zones vastly inferiour to the newer ones. Regrettably those older zones are also the closest to the core, since the world tends to grow outwards in concentric circles, which means that the oldest, inferiour zones are usually among the first that new players come into contact with.

Updating old zones isn't nearly as much fun as creating new ones, but our ambition is that in the long run all old zones will be updated to our present standards. Since I've built the main part of our world, many of them regrettably are my own responsibility to fix, but we've been lucky enough to have some other Builders participate in the updating of some others, where the original Builders usually left the Mud years ago.

The general procedure is to go through the entire zone, (usually directly in the files, fixing any remaining typos, adding all the extra descs and nifty features presently available, usually enlarging them a bit, (if there is still space), and then topping it up by adding a few scripts and a couple of quests, and finally a 'Zone flag'. The Zone flags, hidden at the 'core' of each zone, are our special reward for explorers, who can collect them against a reward. Only zones that are 'up to par' get a zone flag, and when we have a batch of 15 new flags, for updated or new zones, we call a Clan Contest, with a prize for the Clan that collects the most. This generally triggers a lot of player activity, so the announcement of a new batch of Flags is a big event, which usually brings even fairly inactive oldbies back into the game for a while, to help their old Clan.

At least that is one way of turning a rather tedious task into a treat for the players, who might otherwise never even notice the update. Another way to sweeten the deal a bit is that I allow myself to build one new zone for each old one that I update. It prolongs the updating process of course, but at least it offers some variety in the work.
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Old 08-03-2007, 11:51 AM   #8
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Re: What to do about old content?

Trading zones with newer builders/coders, as long as they are good at editing would work, too. I, personally, do not mind re-writing some of the stuff you have written in the past when I have the time. I've done it before, and it's often fun to poke around in the really old stuff that I used to run around in when I was playing.

Do you guys ever run into the area that just doesn't belong, also? Have you ever flat out scrapped an area? I always end up trying to do an event instead and salvaging the area, but I wonder if sometimes, it's best just to punt it.
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Old 08-05-2007, 01:11 AM   #9
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Re: What to do about old content?

Absolutely, I've scrapped areas quite a few times. Some areas just aren't worth rewriting, especially if you don't have a lot of building help available. Sometimes an area's so bad that it really does make the game better by getting rid of it. In some cases I run an event or create some reason for it to disappear - in cases where the area's somewhat out of the way anyway, I tend to delete it and hope that no one notices it's gone, as it means that no one really remembered how bad it was...
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Old 08-05-2007, 03:09 PM   #10
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Re: What to do about old content?

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Originally Posted by Mina View Post
Do you guys ever run into the area that just doesn't belong, also? Have you ever flat out scrapped an area? I always end up trying to do an event instead and salvaging the area, but I wonder if sometimes, it's best just to punt it.
Yup. Our "retired" areas directory is getting pretty large-- there's probably a couple dozen full areas that were scrapped at various points, along with a number of smaller areas (shrines of people no longer on staff, etc.). I'd think builders would get frustrated if they were handed a 'misfit' area, vs. one that just needs some renovation.
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Old 08-06-2007, 05:50 PM   #11
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Re: What to do about old content?

Collapsing content seems like it can be pretty difficult at times since almost everything in a game is someone's favorite thing. Honestly, as a game changes size, sometimes it would be good to get rid of certain things, but doesn't there always seem to be a player or three who objects to certain content being removed? Is it worth it to keep things for one or two players if it's already coded?
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Old 08-07-2007, 01:19 AM   #12
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Re: What to do about old content?

When I worked on Dark Castle, I revamped a number of zones because the writing was so appalling and it ended up being a LOT of fun to do.

On Armageddon, I've rewritten several zones -- the most challenging was with a major city (Allanak), and managing to do so in a way that didn't interrupt play and making it part of a plot line was difficult, but we managed to pull it off. Another approach I've employed on there has been to introduce a rewritten zone (Tuluk) first in skeletal, unbuilt state and slowly move it towards the builder's overall idea.

The only time we've actually scrapped a zone, we had an earthquake (the same one that affected the major city, actually) that explained its disappearance.
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Old 08-07-2007, 04:13 AM   #13
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Re: What to do about old content?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mina View Post
Collapsing content seems like it can be pretty difficult at times since almost everything in a game is someone's favorite thing. Honestly, as a game changes size, sometimes it would be good to get rid of certain things, but doesn't there always seem to be a player or three who objects to certain content being removed? Is it worth it to keep things for one or two players if it's already coded?
Isn't there at least a player or three who objects to absolutely anything you do if it doesn't directly benefit them?

It's a judgement call, really, based on just how much you feel this bad area pulls down the rest of the game (if at all). Personally I wouldn't sacrifice the integrity of the area package just to avoid some complaints, but if you feel that it could be a major issue, a good idea might be what Sanvean suggested: make it an event, tie it into the storyline so at least they can be a part of things and enjoy it one last time, rather than waking up and finding it gone. I know different games having different ways of working, but I feel as though it is good for MUDs to evolve and be in a state of flux, rather than be static with the same old things there for years. I would say, just remember that you're not thinking for your current players, but for your potential players too: if you keep it in order to make 2 players happy, and by doing so you discourage 5 new players from playing, it isn't such a good deal, you know? People are going to complain if their favourite area goes, but on the other hand are unlikely to praise if an area they feel didn't fit, disappeared. It doesn't mean that no one appreciates it.
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Old 08-07-2007, 04:43 AM   #14
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Re: What to do about old content?

Scrapping an area totally is not a very easy thing to do.

Rewriting it, to raise the quality level, is one thing, but lifting it out totally, and getting rid of the vnums can lead to serious problems, unless you take care to get rid of all the objects from it in the game. A player logging on with a non-existing object is enough to keep the Port from rebooting, and since players use alts as storing characters, you have to go through every single pfile and remove the objects from them.

Also, if you are generally taking care to make your world a 'seamless' entity, where the players don't perceive when they leave one zone to enter another, there are bound to be several references to it in other zones, so you'll have to go through all the adjoining zones to get rid of those too. We've only done this once, when a builder got into conflict with the Admin, and insisted that his zone be taken out when he left. Normally we don't agree to this; once a zone is implemented in the Gameport it becomes the property of the Mud. But since the zone was a rather crappy one, and the Builder was very emotional about it, we decided to make an exception. I remember it to be a big hassle, and I spent about a week going through the other zones, removing extra descs and changing quests that used items from the scrapped zone. I vowed at the time to never do it again.

Typically enough the Builder returned half a year later, having thought better of it, and begged to have his zone put back in. This time I absolutely refused however, and the zone stayed out.
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Old 08-07-2007, 11:22 AM   #15
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Re: What to do about old content?

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Originally Posted by Molly View Post
Scrapping an area totally is not a very easy thing to do.

Rewriting it, to raise the quality level, is one thing, but lifting it out totally, and getting rid of the vnums can lead to serious problems, unless you take care to get rid of all the objects from it in the game. A player logging on with a non-existing object is enough to keep the Port from rebooting, and since players use alts as storing characters, you have to go through every single pfile and remove the objects from them.
That's entirely dependent on your codebase, and by no means is it universal. We don't have that problem, for example. Objects which are invalid are logged (in case of an accident) and removed from the pfile automatically so they don't interrupt a boot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Molly View Post
Also, if you are generally taking care to make your world a 'seamless' entity, where the players don't perceive when they leave one zone to enter another, there are bound to be several references to it in other zones, so you'll have to go through all the adjoining zones to get rid of those too.
This is true, though in my opinion it is a lot less work than the difference between rewriting an area with a severe flaw, and starting from scratch with an appropriate idea. Historical works may or may not need to be rewritten, for example, depending on the In-Character fate of the departing place.

The mountain pass that led to it was collapsed by a giant avalanche? Add some rocks, remove the area, remove current references to it, keep the history the same.
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